Performing Arts Students and Faculty Rise to Challenges of Remote Learning

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The fine arts students and faculty at Ohio University are rising to meet the challenges of virtual classrooms with solutions as unique as the departments themselves. This should come as no surprise, they are artists after all.

Ohio University’s School of Theater is planning to put on four productions over the course of this semester. Although audiences will not be able to crowd into Kanter Hall or the RTV Building’s Forum theater as usual, they will be able to tune into live streams of shows. These include the upcoming September 18-20 stream of Lisa Peterson & Denis O’Hare’s AN ILIAD.

An Iliad

“There have been studies and surveys that have been sent out where theatergoers, [and] even if we could promise them a socially distanced theater experience, people are not ready to come back yet,” said Merri Biechler, director of Ohio University’s School of Theater.

The School of Theater’s weekly show “Midnight Madness” has not been lost to the digital transition either. “Midnight Madness” is a required class for MFA playwrights, who receive a theme on Monday and are required to produce a five-page script based around it by Friday night. Typically the show would go live at 11 p.m. in Kantner Hall, after only a single rehearsal for actors. The program has now been stretched into a two week process, with the first week focusing on writing and the second week focusing on producing.

The first post-COVID Midnight Madness went live on Zoom Friday, September 4.

“… Considering it was the first time we’ve ever done it, it went pretty darn well,” said Biechler.

Of course, going digital has its challenges.

“I think nobody figured out that we were going to be having this much screen time. … We all know it’s exhausting.” Biechler said. “It’s so much easier to be in a room with people than to be on a screen.”

Likewise, Ohio University’s School of Dance isn’t giving up on providing the vital experience of concert performance for their senior students.

“We’re still deciding on what [performances will be like],” said Associate Professor of Dance Nathan Andary, adding that the School is considering streaming dance performances as well as potentially pre-recording them and presenting them online after they’ve been produced.

Currently all dance recitals are virtual, although some students will have the option of returning to in-person recitals later this month as a part of Ohio University’s Phase II reopening plan.

“We learned how to practically bend in the [same] way we learn[ed] how to bend [our] knees and drop our weight,” he said. “We learn how to shift direction, which could be a pivot turn. It could be a rotation spin. It could be lots of things. And I think if we look at those two actions in more of a metaphoric way, what are we doing right now? We’re all learning to bend and be nimble.”

As artists, these faculty and students embody change. They learn to work within limitations to provide a meaningful and transformative experience no matter the extenuating circumstances.

“We’re always up against it. We’re always told we don’t have a budget. We’re always told, ‘Oh yeah, that thing you thought was going to happen that fell through,’ we know how to improvise. We know how to be in the moment and be with each other,’” said Biechler. “[…] this is going to have a ripple effect for a long time. I guarantee you […] theaters are not just going to pop open again, like real changes are going to be happening.”